Jokowi, Prabowo off to a feistier start in first televised debate

Indonesia's vice-presidential candidate Hatta Rajasa (left) greets presidential candidate Joko Widodo (second left), while presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (second right) greets vice-presidential candidate Jusuf Kalla, before their presidentia
Indonesia's vice-presidential candidate Hatta Rajasa (left) greets presidential candidate Joko Widodo (second left), while presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (second right) greets vice-presidential candidate Jusuf Kalla, before their presidential debate in Jakarta on June 9, 2014.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - The first televised debate between contenders of the upcoming Indonesian presidential election got off to a feistier than expected start on Monday, with Jakarta governor Joko Widodo and his running mate Jusuf Kalla coming out more strongly against their opponents, former special forces commander Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Hatta Rajasa. 

Over two hours, both pairs answered questions on how they would uphold democracy and the rule of law, and improve governance and respect for diversity.

While the general tone of the debate was cordial, Mr Joko, commonly known as Jokowi, and Mr Kalla, surprised many by taking subtle digs at their opponents' weak points and track record. 

"Leaders have to lead by example. When they talk about human rights, they have to respect human rights," said Mr Kalla, taking a dig at Mr Prabowo's controversial human rights record.

Mr Prabowo stirred a controversial point when he said corruption happens in Indonesia because officials are afraid of their future. 

Making a reference to low pay, he said: "If we want to fight corruption, we have to preserve the quality of life of our officials: judges, policemen, civil servants".

The televised debates organised by the Election Commission have been a key campaign fixture since Indonesians began directly electing their president in 2004.

This year, however, is the first time there are only two pairs of candidates from the start.

And with approval ratings for both teams showing signs of narrowing, observers say the four other debates taking place over the coming weeks could prove crucial. 

Monday's debate began by moderator Zainal Mochtar of Gadjah Mada University's corruption studies centre asking both candidates what would top their agenda when it comes to democracy, clean governance and rule of law.

Latest polls show Mr Joko maintaining a 10 percentage point lead over Mr Prabowo. The election will take place on July 9.

zakirh@sph.com.sg